Once power came back on for most of my New Jersey family and friends last November, I was struck by images from communities that hadn’t been as lucky — and had been forever changed on October 29. I’m a Jersey girl … so reaching out to those “back home” wasn’t an option, but a necessity.
My husband and I could think of no better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend than to give whatever support we could to families who’d lost so much.
I began researching options during those early days post-Sandy; as I did so, I theorized that others may wish to help, but not know how. As a marketer and writer by trade, I craft words designed to inspire people to learn more or make a change for the better … so, making it easy for others to participate was an obvious connection for me.
In the early stages, with little infrastructure, information was hard to uncover. I researched needs and chronicled findings on my own Facebook page … but soon set up a targeted group for sharing opportunities long-term. Curating accurate info and volunteer assignments was tricky at times, but with a bit of diligence I connected with on-the-ground folks who are doing great things.
For that first trip, which I announced on Facebook, local donations arrived on our porch for days prior to departure. We were honored when Gettysburg College loaned us a transport van; we packed it floor to ceiling and departed on Thanksgiving eve, delivering to distribution centers en route to our volunteer destinations. Since last fall, our efforts have focused on Highlands and Union Beach, where so many full-time homes were damaged or destroyed … but honestly, the need is great throughout the region.
We saw devastation up close during that first trip — which remarkably, was nearly a month after Sandy tore her way up the coast. Empty foundations, impassable roads, pieces of homes strewn from blocks away; the stench of breached sewer lines and mold that had already settled in; and partial structures that seemed to defy gravity. House numbers were painted on exterior walls, to aid the canvassing process; some had “we are okay” spray painted on them, too.
Time has passed and we’ve made subsequent trips, seeing various levels of change. Many debris piles are gone; remaining ones are snow-covered. Temporary trailers with duct-tape-attached mailboxes sit beside gutted homes, housing families working to rebuild. In mid-February, I discovered three enormous nests in walls of a house that finally, four months in, had “hands on deck” for demo. And homes we helped gut in November and December sit waiting … for insurance money, FEMA relief, or whatever funding can help replace the moldy materials we removed so many weeks ago.
The volunteer infrastructure has improved, but the story has fallen from the media cycle. Grassroots organizations and groups like AmeriCorps, Jersey Cares, and Occupy Sandy NJ continue to rally a diligent (yet shrinking) body of volunteers. At press time, there are unending opportunities to provide “people power.” We’ll continue to do what we can.
I am humbled by the sense of community pride, selflessness, and gratitude that we’ve witnessed while doing our small part to bring families home. After a day of demo in Highlands, as I stood covered in sheetrock dust and gunk, I was presented with a pair of heart-shaped earrings by the appreciative homeowners, who’d lost all of their possessions when Sandy brought the bay to their door. Jersey Strong, indeed.
Kelly Woods Lynch ’82 is a creative consultant/freelance copywriter who lives in Gettysburg with her husband, Joe ’85, executive director of alumni relations.Posted: Tue, 30 Apr 2013